Charred brooms adorned with shells. Lamé draped across a platform. Pastel paintings of the sky. Art as an immersive experience — set to a soothing soundtrack — defines Paul Heyer’s big show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, opening in January.
A native Chicagoan, 35-year-old Heyer studied in New York and worked in LA before returning to the Midwest. He attended after-school and summer classes at the School of the Art Institute, and the museum’s 1994 exhibition “Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams” made a big impression. “[It was] the first show I ever really loved,” he says. “The whole show was very dimly lit, probably to protect the drawings. But to me it created a dream space, and at least half of my own shows have had dimmed lights, funnily enough.”
While painting remains central to his practice, Heyer has been playing in three dimensions since 2010, when he designed a sling chair for viewers to crawl into at his first solo show. His interest in the gallery as an environment has only grown. “Let’s make the gallery more like a club,” he says. “I’m starting to integrate sound and lighting. Paintings are not just static things; they can act more like road signs or backdrops or memes.”
“Heyer’s work is a social statement about the material and visual culture that surrounds the queer community,” says Omar Kholeif, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the MCA. “But it is always done in a subtle and indirect manner.”
There is exuberance in Heyer’s work, a delight in the mystery of the mash-up. “Everyone is so busy and bombarded with stimuli all day long, so if artists are going to invite museumgoers to spend time with their work, it’s crucial it be worth their time,” he says. “I want to invite them into this dreamy world, a world where God is a five-year-old child, all brooms are universes, apples are blue and bats swim instead of fly. I want it to be both spooky and delicious, like your first kiss or the first time you [drink] — wrong but right.”
Chicago Works: Paul Heyer
Jan. 16-July 1, $15 general admission, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; Mcachicago.org
Pictured at top: Heyer’s “Small Cowboy,” 2015